FBI gets ISI plan to Congress

As required by Congress, the FBI this month submitted to Capitol Hill appropriators a plan to develop a system that agents will use to share evidence and information on crimes in hopes of solving cases faster. The plan lays out how the FBI will pull off its multimilliondollar Information Sharing I

As required by Congress, the FBI this month submitted to Capitol Hill appropriators a plan to develop a system that agents will use to share evidence and information on crimes in hopes of solving cases faster.

The plan lays out how the FBI will pull off its multimillion-dollar Information Sharing Initiative (ISI), which should enhance the agency's crime-fighting ability by giving FBI agents nationwide the hardware and software they need to share and sift through information on cases under investigation.

Congress has appropriated $20 million for the agency to begin buying the software, hardware and services it will need to share information. But Congress, worried about the FBI's history of cost overruns on computer projects and worried about pressures to balance the budget, included in the fiscal 1999 omnibus appropriations bill last year a provision that prevents the FBI from spending money on the project until congressional appropriators approve the FBI's plans for the initiative.

According to its ISI plan, the FBI plans to keep costs in check through a hybrid contracting approach designed to create competition among vendors. Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co. and Science Applications International Corp. are chasing the ISI pact. The FBI will select one vendor to serve as the prime contractor, but that vendor will compete tasks among its subcontractors, according to the ISI plan.

The approach is a modified version of that taken by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for its Service Technology Alliance Resources (Stars) program, in which one contractor oversees work performed by other vendors selected by INS.

That approach should bring benefits, said Mike Hatcher, who oversees Stars work for Electronic Data Systems Corp., which may end up working as a subcontractor on ISI. "[The FBI] should get one of the advantages of Stars, which is lower price per integration task," he said.

Also, the ISI plan gives the FBI a single prime vendor to hold accountable for making sure the work is done correctly, Hatcher said. "They can hold the integration contractor responsible for each of the tasks. I think it gives you the best of both worlds."

The ISI plan also puts in place other management and quality-control safeguards.

For example, the plan emphasizes heavy consultation with users of ISI technology; use of "proven" commercial off-the-shelf technology; training and "user support"; a modular, one-step-at-a-time approach to rolling out ISI; and regular reviews of progress by top Justice Department officials, not just FBI officials.

Stephen Colgate, assistant attorney general for administration at DOJ, agreed that an FBI history of cost overruns on IT projects presents an obstacle for congressional approval. "We're definitely suffering from the sins of the past," he said.

However, Colgate said the FBI has "successfully demonstrated" that it can manage information technology wisely. "Hopefully, we're at a point where we can start overcoming some of the skepticism, which was rightfully there," he said.

Despite the plan, a government source familiar with it doubts that Congress will agree to fund the five-year program at the $430 million level that the FBI wants. "It's 29 pages of 'this is why we won't screw this one up,' " the source said.

The FBI might stand a better chance of winning over Congress if the plan's focus were on costs and benefits rather than on the minutiae of managing the project, the source added. "The real issue is, What are we getting and how much money do we have to pay for it?" the source said. "There clearly [were] two major procurement debacles that have cost the FBI an enormous amount of money.... This is their next [big procurement], and they are clearly terrified, and they are doing everything humanly possible to make sure this [project] is going to happen."

Two FBI systems scheduled to come online this summer are the National Crime Information Center 2000 and the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

DOJ has had cost overruns of more than $100 million on the $184 million NCIC 2000, an upgrade to a system that law enforcement agencies nationwide use to conduct criminal background checks, locate missing persons and find stolen vehicles.

IAFIS, which when completed will make searching for and matching fingerprints of wanted criminals easier and faster, is expected to cost $640 million instead of the original estimate of $470 million.

Colgate said ISI is an important FBI project. "It's really needed to ensure that the FBI agents out in the field have up-to-date information technology tools on their desktops," Colgate said. He also said the program should give agents and other DOJ workers the ability to share more information on cases under investigation or brought to court.

A Capitol Hill staff member said appropriators are only beginning to investigate the FBI's plans and the feasibility of full funding, but the Hill plans to study ISI carefully. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions," the staff member said.

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